What is Public Relations?
by Martin Cohn

In the last decade, there has been much malignment of the field of public relations. Much of the criticism comes from the old stereotype of the circus barker who would say and promise anything so that the public would spend its money in his tent or sideshow. However, in today's world of fast-paced economic and social change, the need to communicate is becoming more and more important.

Businesses recognize that they are beleaguered by various groups and movements. Businesses must deal with everyone, from environmentalists to consumerists, in order to exist in the marketplace. Businesses are beginning to understand the necessity to gain the support and cooperation of other, through honest, straightforward persuasion. No longer is public relations simply how to get your name in the paper without paying for it. Instead, public relations has become a carefully planned attempt to communicate with different audiences.

The problem, however, with understanding what public relations is, is due to the fact that public relations varies from organization to organization and that a wide variety of activities fall under one banner. These activities include, but are not limited to, press agentry, publicity, and public affairs. While all these activities are parts of the whole, people often confuse the parts for the whole.

The goal of the press agent is to simply attract attention for the client. His or her success is measured by the number of items found in the media.

The publicist not only attracts attention, but also support of the client by building a favorable image and understanding of the client. Newsworthy events, such as anniversary celebrations or plant openings, are given to the media for this purpose. Many fundraising drives rely on publicity to achieve their goals.

Public affairs work is becoming particularly important in today's business world. The need to develop both good community and governmental relations is paramount, in order to respond to pressing social and economic issues.

A good public relations program encompasses all of these elements. By evaluating public opinion and advertising management of these evaluations, public relations professionals play a vital role in influencing public opinion.

Since 1945, we have seen more and more media develop. This, in turn, has resulted in a proliferation of communications media vying for the attention of the public. At the same time, more regulatory bodies have been initiated. The need for public understanding has also grown. Organizations and businesses can exist only by public consent and their existence is justified only in terms of its contribution to society as viewed by society.

Public relations professionals believe and act on the premise that only an informed public can be a wise public.